The Talking Dog

May 31, 2014, Even the propaganda is failing

Ordinarily, I would think that anything that gets a captured American service-member released, and simultaneously reduces the population of one of the most notorious prisons in the world (yes, you know I mean Guantanamo) by about 3% is a "win-win." Nonetheless, I can only question this action. I'm troubled that at a place where nearly half the prisoners have been "cleared for transfer" for many years, why arguably the few dudes who might actually be dangerous (mind you, not that they've been charged, tried and found guilty or anything so "pre-9-11" as that) (a senior U.S. defense official confirmed Saturday that the prisoners to be released include Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammed Nabi Omari) are the ones being released. The rest continue to be held in horrific, and seemingly never-ending, incarceration. At GTMO, of course, this is an "ever thus" thing-- fairness, let alone "justice," has always been in short supply.

In some sense, I'm shocked at how inexpensively we recovered Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl: just five Taliban prisoners. I remember on several occasions the Israelis trading a thousand or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single captured Israeli soldier... indeed, the last time Israel traded something like only five prisoners for their soldiers... their soldiers were dead.

To be sure, the Taliban-- who I credit with being smart enough to realize that, with perhaps the exception of the five dudes they just got released, have concluded that Guantanamo Bay is more valuable to their cause if it remains an open and continuing fecund source for new extremists-- really have little use for the other 140 or 145 or so unfortunates still hanging on as prisoners at GTMO,and apparently, now that the United States has more or less announced its draw-down to a manageable 9,800 or so troops in Afghanistan after this year, apparently the Taliban concluded that they didn't have much continuing use for Sgt. Bergdahl either.

Over the years, I've talked to dozens of people about GTMO (the interviews are all linked to at the end of my most recent interview)... and I've assisted Candace Gorman, an attorney representing two GTMO detainees, one former and one still held there... and the only conclusion, from the accounts of former detainees, of former military members, of journalists and of dozens of lawyers (including former Guantanamo war crimes prosecutors) is that, with very few exceptions [which may or may not include the five of whom have just been released... as if this were even remotely relevant in propaganda-world!] we're holding a bunch of nobodies there who did nothing other than being in the wrong place and time, and they continue to be held as victims of political posturing, and little more. These men have been failed by the judiciary, by Congress, by the military, by the executive, and frequently, by their own countries, and unquestionably, by the American public, which, with all too few exceptions, is not even aware that Guantanamo is still open, and if it is, assumes that everyone there has probably already been tried and found guilty, rather than the miserable reality that more men (nine) have died at GTMO than have been convicted in its military commissions (eight).

I have come to realize that actual facts and figures really don't sway anyone; to some degree, it's human nature, but it is also quintessentially American. "Reality" such as it is must be contextualized in an established narrative: if the "new fact" fits neatly in the narrative, it is easily digested; if it conflicts with the story of the world that we have set for ourselves, it will be found disconcerting, and very likely discounted or dismissed. It's that preexisting story that matters-- we are programmed to fit everything we observe into the context of that story-- not to adjust the story to "reality." And so the "worst of the worst" story still persists for most-- even as they merrily tune out every last detail of what's happening in front of them and eat what they're served (such as, you know, Kim/Kanye's wedding plans.)

I'm not suggesting for a minute that the exchange of five ex-Taliban for one U.S. serviceman will shatter anyone's background narrative and world-view: alleged progressives will continue to believe that their sainted hero Barack Obama kept his promise and closed Guantanamo Bay within his first year in office, while alleged conservatives will believe that the place houses nothing but hardened terrorists who deserve everything they've had coming to them. I just wonder if the propagandists themselves, from the White House (whose press officer, perhaps fatigued from having to spout this sort of propaganda horseshit for so long, just announced his resignation) will eventually realize that they are largely talking to each other, and just might, you know, give it a rest.

That's not how you bet, of course: our "leaders" (in finance and in "the military-industrial complex") believe GTMO is useful-- as a demonstration project that we can do it, as an interrogation and torture laboratory, as a wedge against a legal system not completely controlled by them-- or for some other reason. And so... the story as it is... will go on... even as its propaganda basis [that would be "protecting us from the most hardened terrrrrorists on Earth"] is falling apart right in front of us.